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Hyperloop – The futuristic technology that could revolutionize transport


  • Overview of the Hyperloop technology and system
  • A look into the prominent players developing the hyperloop technology
  • Road ahead for the new futuristic transport technology

 

With the advancement of technology over the years, the mode of transportation has also undergone rapid change with new innovations – from high specs electric cars to bullet trains. One of the newer developments in the world of transportation is Hyperloop, a new ultra-speed transport system that could drastically cut travel times between cities. Hyperloop was a concept first introduced by Elon Musk sometime around 2012. The basic idea of Hyperloop, as explained by Elon Musk, is that the passengers travel in pods/capsules through a tube which would either be above or below ground. Similar to airplanes that soar to high altitudes so as to travel through less dense air, the tubes of the Hyperloop would be creating similar effects at the ground level to overcome air resistance. At its core, hyperloop is about removing friction and air resistance (by pumps) – the two elements that slow down regular transport vehicles. Hyperloop, in simple words, is a form of transportation that uses a combination of low-pressure transit tubes and magnetic levitation to move the pods/capsules from place to place, with a speed up to about 760 mph.

Since 2013, when Elon Musk’s companies Tesla and SpaceX published the papers outlining the Hyperloop Alpha system, a handful of commercial companies began developing their own version of the hyperloop technologies, with Virgin Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies being the most prominent besides Elon Musk’s The Boring Company. Because hyperloop has the potential to revolutionize the transport system it has caught the attention of investors and there has been considerable funding raised by these prominent players for their Hyperloop developments. The Boring Company has raised over $229.5 million in equity so far - $112.5 million in April 2018, with Elon Musk investing 90% of that amount and another $117 million as per an SEC filing in July 2019 from 20 unnamed investors. Virgin Hyperloop One, as per recent reports, has raised a total of about $172 million in new funding as of May 2019. The company had already raised $295 million before this. As for Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, the counterpart startup of the other hyperloop companies has so far raised about $108 million partly in cash and partly in other form such as man-hours, service rendered, land rights usage and future in-kind investments.

As per Musk’s original paper released, the estimated investment amount of a hyperloop from Los Angeles to San Francisco would cost between $6 billion to $7.5 billion. Considering it transports 7.4 million people each way every year you could recoup the investment and cover operating costs with $20 ticket prices in over 20 years. The plans for proposed hyperloop networks published so far are spread across Central Europe, United States, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and India. Virgin Hyperloop One has plans for more than 10 projects across seven countries, while Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has about 6 projects planned across five countries.

So far, there aren’t any fully functional hyperloop systems in the world, but this could change soon as India has approved the world’s first passenger hyperloop linking the two cities Pune and Mumbai in under 35 minutes (it takes an approximate 3-4 hours trip by car). For the multi-billion project the government of Maharashtra has named Virgin Hyperloop One and shipping giant DP World as the originators of the project. There is no exact date as to when this Hyperloop project will be operational, but the project is supposed to be finished in a couple of years if everything goes right. It’s expected that the Hyperloop project will be an underground system. If we consider the estimates of travelers between the two cities, it is estimated that about 75 million passengers travel between Mumbai and Pune annually and this number is expected to reach 130 million by 2026. The Virgin Hyperloop One project when completed will have the capacity to transport about 200 million passengers annually, thus being about to meet the growing number.

For hyperloop to really work, considering it will compete with the likes of airplanes, it must offer a level of service, pricing and safety that will sway away customers from the current available forms of transportation. Besides, hyperloop to become a mainstream source of transport, must also start finding its way through the bureaucratic regulations of various countries and governments to get approvals as to where to build its infrastructure than its currently approved plans. The companies working on this new mode of transport must also soon deliver a full-fledged test result and prove that travelling through this means is safe for humans if it wants any chance to make it a reality. There is also the problem of money, considering the magnitude of the infrastructure that will be required for the Hyperloop. As per Virgin Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd, it would cost $10 million to build one mile of two-way-track (which is less than a third of the high-speed rail system project in California), although this estimate does not include how much cost it will require to maintain a working hyperloop.

Though there is no exact date as to when the hyperloop technology will be available to the masses, but there have been several tests that have already been conducted successfully with positive results and backed by recent developments, we might be travelling inside these high speed transports in coming years sooner than later.

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